The psalms are the language that God has given the church to pray, to sing, to speak his language back to him. Each Sunday, we have one psalm as a centerpiece of our worship time together at WIts' End. During this series of reflections on the Lectionary Psalms we will hear from people in our community as they think and pray through the upcoming psalm for that week.
Today's post is by our Writer in Residence, Casey Hobbs. Casey will be reflecting on Psalm 31.
If you are still reading, thank you for not bailing out at the first sign of my weakness. I’ll elaborate on my hatred for the ancient holy language with one word: repetition. If you love the artistry that you might find in other languages, with various colorful nuanced word choices, you too will hate the Hebrew language. It is terse. It is stark. The main way to emphasize a point is by repetition.
The main way to emphasize a point is by repetition. The main way to emphasize a point is by repetition. The main...you get the point.
Throughout the course of the first four verses of Psalm 31, the terms refuge and fortress are repeated five times. The idea, each time, is the same. We start to get the feel of what David is after right off the bat. He feels exposed. He feels vulnerable. The repetition is revealing.
Later on in the Psalm, David lets us in a bit more as to the source of his distress. His enemies are spreading lies about him (v.18). He feels as if he is under assault (v.21). And worst of all, he says in his alarm, I am cut off from your sight (v. 22).
We can all relate to David’s distress. Who among us does not know what it feels like to have people telling lies behind our backs? Who among us does not know what it means to be under attack from the enemy? Who among us does not know the feeling of being cut off from the sight of the Almighty?
Repetition, it seems, does not only occur in the word choice of the Psalmist. There were those who went before David that experienced the same sorts of suffering. And now, some thousands of years later, we can immediately identify with somebody who has an afflicted and distressed soul. We can identify with one whose eyes have shed so many tears that they are now wasted from grief. Our bodies and our souls know this longing for shelter.
Suffering is common for all the sons of Adam and daughters of Eve. It repeats the same familiar measures down through every epoch of history.
And in the midst of all this repetition, there is one tiny sliver of something new. One small promise that things will not forever stay the same way that they are presently. One hint of things to come. Buried in the midst of the Psalmist’s lament is a familiar phrase.
Into your hand I commit my spirit.
We know this phrase because Jesus himself repeated it on the cross. Jesus, himself no stranger to liars, to enemy attackers, and to not just the feeling of being cut off from the presence of the Father, but to that reality which we could not bear to imagine. Jesus, in his final statement from the cross, claims identification once and for all with those who suffer and with those who believe.
And in this, the Easter season, we celebrate that the Father has seen the affliction of his Son, and of all his daughters and sons.
He has known the distress of our souls.
He has not delivered us into the hand of the enemy.
He has set our feet in the broad, wide open spaces of resurrection life.
So now together, we claim with familiar repetition the basis for our faith:
Christ is risen.
He is risen indeed.